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Do Your Homework The smart first step to buying a franchise or business opportunity: research right.

By Andrew A. Caffey

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Franchises and business opportunities offer investments built on an irresistible principle: Own a business and be your own boss. The appeal may be the same, but franchises and business opportunities are more different than alike. A business opportunity is a one-time purchase, usually requiring a part-time effort and no continuing relationship with the seller. Mostly, it's a smaller investment without ongoing royalties. The seller is a product-provider, although some guidance materials are often available with the purchase. Trademark rights usually aren't licensed to the buyer. The seller is not on hand to provide business assistance when things go wrong. You're on your own.

Franchising is the more sophisticated investment--a full-time, absorbing business experience. The investment can be substantial: A free-standing franchise restaurant can easily cost you more than $500,000 in total investment.

Gathering information about investing in a particular business opportunity can be difficult. The person you most want to interview is someone who has purchased the business opportunity and had some success with it. Ask the seller for a list of owners in your area. Get on the phone with some of them. The key question to ask is, "Knowing what you know now, would you make this purchase again?"

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